Raw Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake

I was super excited when a raw foods cafe opened up in town. I decided to surprise my sweetie with a raw foods lunch recently, and let’s just say that was the first and last time that we experienced raw foods. I got this carrot, ginger, coconut soup and a Mexican kale “taco” salad, with a rocky road “fudge” for dessert. Interestingly, the woman who owned the cafe said that we should eat the rocky road fudge first to help “aid in digestion.” Hmm. Okay.

I got to my partner’s workplace to deliver lunch and mentioned briefly what the woman suggested about the rocky road fudge. Instead of following her advice, we dug right into the soup and salad. The soup was too gingery for my liking, but the salad was okay. The dehydrated chips were delicious. We followed the meal with the dessert which was amazing. Well, needless to say, we SHOULD have followed her suggestion because within a few minutes after eating we were immediately overcome with abdominal pain. And not just any abdominal pain, intense gas pains. OMG. I was fortunate to go home and curl up on the couch with a few swigs of Pepto-Bismol, but my partner still had to work.

We vowed never to eat raw foods again. Well, that vow didn’t last long. We’ve delved into some raw foods desserts and have come to really enjoy them, but haven’t quite been able to find some good savory recipes. So if you have any good savory recipes, please pass them along :)

Raw Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake (adapted from A Dash of Compassion)

For the crust:
2 cups raw almonds
2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 cup date paste
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the lemon cheesecake:
2 cups raw macadamia nuts
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 cup raw cashews
1 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup raw agave nectar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup coconut oil, melted

For the crust:
To make a date paste, soak 8 dates in 3/4 cup water for 20 minutes. Drain and reserve the water the dates were soaked in. Process the dates with 2 tablespoons of the reserved water until a paste has formed. Store in air tight container in refrigerator for up to one month.

Process the almonds and coconut flakes in a food processor until coarse. Add the date paste, vanilla extract, and salt and process until well combined. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan. Set aside.

For the filling:
Using a food processor, blend the macadamia nuts, cashews, almond milk, lemon juice, agave nectar and vanilla extract until smooth and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Pour the cheesecake filling into the springform pan. Place the cheesecake in the freezer to set, about 3 hours, or until the cheesecake is firm to touch.

Remove from springform pan, and decorate with fresh blueberries.

Fudgy Vegan Brownie for My Valentine and a Pre-Valentine’s Day Dinner Bust

Sigh.  Our pre-Valentine’s Day dinner was a complete bust this year.  We wanted to have an intimate VD dinner a little earlier because we had plans for a double dinner date on the actual day.  So we got all dressed up and headed to our favorite “special occasions” restaurant.

The food and service was exceptional as always.  However, after the 3rd course of our 5-course prix fixe menu, I started to get clammy, diaphoretic (sweating perfusely), tachycardic (heart racing), dizzy, lightheaded, vision/hearing was fading.  I started to get anxious because I didn’t want to make a scene in a busy, full house restaurant.  So I decided to excuse myself from the table to get some fresh air.  Well, the next thing I remember was waking up on the floor of the dining room asking everyone hovered over me , “what happened?” to which they replied with, “you passed out.”  So much for not making a scene in a busy restaurant, right?

I was brought to the ED [while protesting the whole way there when my partner drove me], and ended up being admitted into the hospital.  I spent my entire weekend holed up on a hospital bed watching a marathon rerun of Law and Order: SVU (which I love!), waiting for more exams and exam results.  I was finally discharged yesterday, and have this new found appreciation for my bed, couch, and being able to shower whenever I want.

My partner stayed with me the entire time I was in the ED.  Before all this happened, she was planning to paint at her artist studio, but those plans were foiled when I just had to pass out in the middle of a restaurant.  She was extremely patient when I was being difficult, brought me things from home to keep me occupied, clean clothes to change into, and food so that I wouldn’t have to eat the hospital food.  As a way to show her how much I appreciate her, I baked her a vegan brownie for Valentine’s Day.  This may not seem like such a huge gesture, but let me just preface this by saying that I am, by no means, a baker.

Fudgy Vegan Brownie for My Valentine

1 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened applesauce
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1/2 cup hot water
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon powder
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch round pan with vegan butter or canola oil spray.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the applesauce, sugar, vanilla extract, and 1/4 cup of the hot water.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the ground flaxseed with the remaining 1/4 cup of hot water. Add the flax egg to the large mixing bowl, and combine until well incorporated. Add the remaining ingredients, and stir to combine.

Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean (for the most part, since this is supposed to be fudgy). Remove from oven and cool slightly before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

Ecstasy Bars (aka, magic bars on crack or salted caramel magic bars)

It’s 3:00 a.m. and I’m exhausted.  The caffeine is starting to wear off.  Do you ever feel nauseous when you are lacking in the sleep department?  Well, I just reached that point.  One more hour and I will have been awake for 24 hours.  I worked 13 hours today.  Thirteen!  It wasn’t really by choice either.  It was mandatory over time.  You may (or may) not be wondering why I am still up at this ridiculous hour of the morning.

I’m still up because I’m forcing myself to stay awake so that I can sleep soon.  I am working the graveyard shift the next two nights.  And guess what?  I have NEVER worked a graveyard shift before.  So my brilliant plan is to stay up as late as I can so that I can sleep until about 4:00 p.m., have dinner, and head off to work for my 12 hour shift that starts at 7:00 p.m.  I have another brilliant plan to take pseudoephedrine (i.e., the derivative to methamphetamine) and coffee to keep me awake through the wee hours of the night while I work tomorrow and the day after.  In fact, that used to be a favorite cocktail combination of mine while I was in pharmacy school trying to stay up for midterms and finals.  However, do as I say and not as I do, in that I do not advise anyone to take this drug combination.  It can really get your heart racing and blood pressure rising, which can be a no-no especially for those with a pre-existing (or even unknown) heart condition.  Therefore, avoid this.   Actually, just pretend you didn’t even read the last half of this paragraph.  Anyhow, I digress, as usual.

I was so anxious about not being able to stay up tonight that I bought a new movie and a new Nintendo Wii game to keep myself entertained/awake until I can go to sleep.  Well, instead of watching TV or playing video games (which I had every intention of doing), I entertained myself by concocting yummy things in the kitchen.  I’m making my version of magic bars (aka, seven layer bars), except that my magic bars are on crack.  They have been finished with a generous drizzle of my salted caramel sauce.  So they’re not just any magic bars… they’re magic bars on crack.  Actually, they’re even better than that.  They are ecstasy bars.

And as I sit here while blogging this post and listening to the snores of my sleeping dog, my brain is slowly shutting down and my eyes barely open.  I think it may be bedtime soon…

Ecstasy Bars

1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup dark chocolate morsels
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1/2 cup salted caramel sauce

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Coat muffin tin with cooking spray.

Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter. Press into bottoms of muffin tin.  Layer evenly with sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips, followed by the shredded coconut.

Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool for about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from muffin tin.  Drizzle with salted caramel sauce.  Store covered at room temperature.

[If you don't want to go through the hassle of using a mini muffin pan, use a 13x9 inch baking pan.  Line the pan with foil, coat with nonstick spray, and layer as directed above.  Allow to cool, and then simply lift up the foil up and out to remove from baking pan.  You're left with perfect magic bars.  Cut into squares and devour.]

Makes 36 servings (small, as these are very rich)

My first attempt at baking in 15 years… frustrating, but rewarding.

My partner’s birthday is one week from tomorrow.  Her favorite cake to devour on her birthday is a german chocolate cake, and it’s been her one request for several years now.  So it’s become a tradition… a  home-cooked meal, and a german chocolate cake.  Except that I’ve always cheated and bought the cake from a bakery.  I always made excuses for why I was never able to bake her a cake… no time, had to work, her friends were not going to eat what I bake.  Those were the most common excuses.  I’m sure there were many more.  But in actuality, I was and still am intimidated by baking.  It’s too precise for me.  I like cooking savory dishes so much more because a little dash of this, and a little dash of that, and voila!… a tasty meal.  No measurements, no thing.  Just pure intuition.

I’m a horrible baker.  The last time I attempted to bake was fifteen years ago.  I was trying to bake chocolate chip cookies from store bought ready-made cookie dough.  The cookies looked nothing like the picture.  They were flat, and dry.  Ugh.  I mean, how can you mess up ready-made cookie dough?!  They are made to be fail proof.  You just drop dough onto a buttered cookie sheet, and wait 8 to 10 minutes for cookies!  Not me.  The cookies ended up in the garbage.  From then on, I swore to myself that I would never try to bake anything sweet ever again.  Ever.  Until this year.

I promised her a homemade german chocolate cake.  We were celebrating my partner’s birthday a little early this year with a group of friends, so today was the day.  The day to bake.  The day that I’ve avoided for a very long time.  It took me three hours to make, bake and assemble.  I don’t think it should have taken this long.  I also had many other revelations along the way of making this cake.  Firstly, I can’t believe that of all cakes I tried to bake, this was the one.  This was a very involved recipe!  Secondly, I had many horrible mishaps along the way of baking.  I think it was a sign that I was not meant to be a baker.  Lastly, I realized how important it is to have at least a hand-held electric mixer.  I hand-mixed and hand beat EVERYTHING in the recipe below.  My forearms were very sore by the end of the process.  And my eggs white didn’t quite have “stiff peaks,” but it worked out.  Why didn’t I just buy the hand-held electric mixer today when I was getting some accessories at Sur La Table?!  But with that being said, the mini cakes turned out very tasty.

I also had an epiphany after assembling the cakes… I’m not a baker.  I just don’t have the patience.  I plan on buying boxed cake mix, and will make the coconut filling from scratch.  It’ll be a hybrid homemade cake :)

Mini German Chocolate Cakes (adapted from Bakers Royale)

For the cake:
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons water
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-inch cake pans.

Melt both chocolates together with the 6 tablespoons of water. Use either a double-boiler or a microwave. Stir until smooth, then set aside until room temperature.

In the bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, then the egg yolks, one at a time.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Mix in half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture, then the buttermilk and the vanilla extract, then the rest of the dry ingredients.

In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft, droopy peaks.  Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar until stiff.

Fold about one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there’s no trace of egg white visible.

Divide the batter into the 2 prepared cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool cake layers completely.  (This was a really important part of making this cake.  I think this steps allows for the cakes to be handled with more ease.  I made the mistake of handling the cake layers while they were still warm, and the cakes seemed to crumble a lot easier.  Things to learn along the way, I suppose :) )

While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup, and icing.

For the filling:
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups sweetened coconut, toasted

Mix the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the butter, salt, toasted coconut, and pecan pieces in a large bowl.

Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spoon (an instant-read thermometer will read 170°.)

3. Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. The mixture will thicken as it cools.

For the syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum

In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum.

For the chocolate ganache:
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream

Place the chocolate into a medium bowl.

Heat the cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Bring just to a boil, watching very carefully because if it boils for a few seconds, it will boil out of the pot.  When the cream has come to a boil, pour over the chopped chocolate, and whisk until smooth.

Allow the ganache to cool slightly before pouring over a cake. Start at the center of the cake and work outward.

To assemble cakes:
Requires a 2.5 inch cake ring

Using a serrated knife, cut the two cakes in half leaving you four large, round disks. Using the cake ring, cut as many 2.5 inch diameter cakes from the four round cakes. Brush each layer with the sugar-rum syrup. Spread one teaspoonful of filling on the top of the bottom layer, then repeating with one more layer, until layer is filled except the top. Pour chocolate top, and top off with a little sprinkle of shredded coconut and a pecan to finish it.

Makes 14 individual cakes.

Decadent Chocolate Mousse… Just Like the Real Thing, but Healthier!

Who knew tofu was so versatile??  I’ve only known tofu used in savory dishes… soups, stews, baked, grilled, fried, stir-fried, and sauteed.  But I’ve never heard of its use in desserts.  Until recently, that is.  As I peruse through different recipes, mainly vegan and low-calorie recipes, I am amazed how it is the perfect substitute for all things dairy and such.  I’m all for substituting anything that calls for some sort of cream, shortening, butter, and eggs as I work on getting my health back in order.  Of course, the real thing is ALWAYS better, but these dessert recipes calling for silken tofu is a pretty darn good alternative.

I was a little skeptical at first when I came across this recipe.  I mean, how can chocolate mousse taste good with silken tofu?  Well, I certainly ate my words today.  I was afraid I was going to be able to taste the tofu, like I did when I made vegan cheesecake.  But I didn’t.  In fact, if someone had me try this without telling me it was made with tofu, I would have thought it was the real thing.  The chocolate and port really do a great job at masking the flavors of the tofu.

Decadent Chocolate Mousse (adapted from Veggiewala)

1 package (12.3 ounce) of silken tofu, drained
2.5 bars (1.65 ounces each) high quality dark chocolate (72% cacao)
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon almond milk
2 tablespoons port
½ cup sugar
1 banana, sliced (optional)

Puree the silken tofu in a food processor until extremely smooth.  It should be the consistency of yogurt.

In double boiler or a bowl set over simmering water, add in the chocolate bar, the cocoa powder, almond milk, water, and port. Stir together until just melted and smooth. Remove from heat and slowly add in the sugar, stirring until smooth. (The mixture will not look creamy and smooth until the sugar is added).

Fold the tofu into the chocolate mixture, and mix together until completely blended.  Pour into a serving bowl or individual ramekins and refrigerate at least one hour.  The chocolate-tofu mixture will thicken up once refrigerated.  Serve with sliced bananas.

Makes 4 servings.

Calories per serving: 340.

Vegan Cheesecake… It’s a Close Second to the Real Thing!

I’m by no means a vegan. Not a chance. I am too much of a carnivore to be one. However, with that being said, I do enjoy having vegan and/or vegetarian days. Especially more so now that I’ve discovered vegan desserts. I really love desserts. It’s something that definitely contributed to my weight gain. Well, that and my lazy, inactive butt on the couch watching trashy reality TV shows. So finding vegan recipes that almost mimick “the real thing” is a fun challenge that I’ve engaged myself in.

I cut out desserts almost completely when I started my diet and exercise plan back in late August 2010. It was on a strict caloric intake per day and coupled with exercise has led to my success now. However, cutting out sweets was a really difficult thing. I love a good port with something sweet at night. I started having sugar withdrawals when I cut out the sweets (no way could I cut out my evening night cap!). I’ve slowly introduced desserts back, but only if it’s vegan. It amazes me how lower in fat vegan recipes can be compared to recipes that use butter and shortening. And that’s the thing, butter and shortening. The two very ingredients that can make anything taste good. But finding butter, egg, gelatin, shortening alternatives has been a wonderful and interesting learning experience.

Vegan Cheesecake (adapted from Happy Herbivore)

1 prepared graham cracker pie crust
14 ounces silken tofu
8 ounces Tofutti cream cheese
1/2 cup raw sugar
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare pie crust if you have not already done so.

Place tofu and Tofutti cream cheese in a blender and blend for about 30 seconds. Stop and scrape the sides, and blend for another 30 seconds. Add remaining ingredients and blend for another 3 minutes, stopping periodically to scrape the sides.

(Yes , that is a blender circa 1970.  It was my parents’ blender that I got to inherit!  It’s one of my favorite tools in the kitchen.  They just don’t make them like they used to!)

Once fully incorporated, pour into prepared pie crust and smooth top with a spatula. Set the cheesecake pan on a large piece of aluminum foil and fold up the sides around it. Place the cake pan in a large roasting pan. Pour boiling water into the roasting pan until the water is about halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan; the foil will keep the water from seeping into the cheesecake. Bake for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and place somewhere to cool to room temperature (about 2 to 3 hours). Chill overnight or for at least 6 hours before serving.

Blueberry Topping

1 pint blueberries
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons sugar

In a small saucepan add all the ingredients and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes or so until the fruit begins to break down slightly. Leave to cool before spreading on cheesecake.

Makes 6 servings.

Saltine Toffee

My partner graduated with a Master’s Degree in Special Education in June ’10, and I took her to Napa, CA, to celebrate the occasion.  It was something that we had talked about wanting to do for a number of years, and just never got to do it.  So her graduation was the perfect reason!  We stayed at a wonderful and cozy bed and breakfast, Arbor Guest House.  If you like B&Bs, I suggest you check it out.  The food was phenomenal, the happy our wine and appetizers were plentiful, the rooms were spacious and comfortable, and the hosts were exceptionally friendly.

When we arrived in Napa, we immediately checked into our B&B, changed into “date night” clothes, and ready to get our food on!  I had been scoping out restaurants for several months before our trip and decided on Richard Reddington’s Redd for our first night there.  Redd (located in Yountville, CA; about 10-15 minutes north of Napa) is currently featured as a one-star rated restaurant according to the 2011 Bay Area Michelin Guide.  It had gotten lots of really good reviews, so it was something we had to try.  We arrived a few minutes late after our reservation, but were immediately seated.  The restaurant was chic and modern, but not pretentious.  The service was fantastic.  We ordered too much food and devoured all of it.  The food was just exceptional.

We were presented with the dessert menu but just couldn’t bring ourselves to eat more.  We were so full that it was uncomfortable, but a good kind of uncomfortable, if you know what I mean.  So we asked for the check and when the bill arrived, so did a small dish of candy.  Two words… saltine toffee.  What??  Exactly.  We never heard of such a thing either, but leave it to Richard Reddington and his magnificent staff.  It was the perfect combination of sweet from the toffee/chocolate, and saltiness from the old-school saltine crackers.  It was… well, there were just no words to describe how much we enjoyed those small morsels of sweet and savory goodness.

Upon our arrival back to reality, I immediately sought out for saltine toffee recipes.  I actually found a lot of recipes, all with a slight variation of another.  I bookmarked a few for our sweet & savory holiday gift bags, and just now had the opportunity to make them.

Saltine Toffee

1.5 sleeves of saltine crackers
1 cup butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper and coat it with non-stick cooking spray.  Lay the crackers out onto the sheet pan, in an even layer, filling in any gaps with broken pieces. You will have some crackers left over.  Set them aside for now.

Heat the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan, over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil. Pour the toffee over the crackers, then use a spatula to smooth it out over the entire surface.  Transfer to the oven & bake for about 5 minutes, or until the toffee is bubbling all over.

Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the hot toffee and let them sit for about five minutes or pop the pan back into the oven for a minute or two, until they have begun to soften and melt. Use a spatula to spread the melted chocolate evenly over the toffee.  Take the reserved crackers and crumble them over the chocolate while it is still soft.

Chill the pan, until the toffee and chocolate are set, which takes about 30 to 45 minutes. Break it up into small pieces and serve.  The toffee can be stored in an airtight container (chilled, or in a cool, dry spot) for up to one week.

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